Monday, January 29, 2007

The Marvel of Space Flight! A Visit to the Kennedy Space Center

By Gordon Ficke

SUMMARY: A visit to Florida would not be complete without visiting the Kennedy Space Center. This is where the North American space program began and continues today. Visitors will be amazed at the history made here and wowed at the development of the technology that put man into space, to the moon and learn more about our vast universe. This is a must see attraction!

Amid the turmoil of the turbulent 1960's, one of the most exciting and positive events I fondly remember was watching the live early morning rocket launches from Cape Canaveral. Huddled around our livingroom, our family's eyes were glued to the black and white Philco television set, in breathtaking silence as the rocket boosters spewed copious clouds of white smoke that engulfed the launch pad, before the Saturn V rocket finally lifted off the pad and into space. Those early years of the space race were heady ones, filled with exuberance and a hope for a bright tomorrow. The future of the NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) space program promised to free mankind from the confines of our troubled planet earth, once and for all.

A visit to Florida wouldn't be complete if it didn't include a visit to to Merritt Island and the home of the John F. Kennedy Space Center. This historical island, about six times the size of Manhattan, encompasses 140,000 acres, bordered by the Intra-Coastal Waterway on the west and the Atlantic Ocean on the east. It is home to NASA, where space technology integrates with the surrounding wildlife habitat.

Parking is free at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, and I chose the standard ticket (currently $38.00 for adults and $28.00 for children 3 - 11 years old) that included the bus tour that runs throughout the day.

I first checked out the Rocket Garden with examples of early Redstone rockets, propulsion systems, guidance systems and technology as new discoveries advanced NASA's scientists to develop tools and equipment to enable astronauts to probe further and for longer periods of time into the new frontier of space.

After that I boarded one of the sleek tour buses and watched a video monitor as the tour guide gave us instructions as to when to watch and when to look out the bus window. The retired gentleman at the wheel also pointed out interesting things to us as we traveled through the natural reserve. We passed by a lazy alligator languishing in a drainage ditch.

Once our bus neared the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), which is the second largest building in the world per volume, the driver pointed out the enormous specialty crawler that transports the space shuttle and rocket to the launch pad. At one mile per hour, it creeps along on a unique gravel road bed designed to bear the combined earth crunching weight of the crawler and orbiter.

"I wonder what's going on here," remarked the bus driver as we observed employees gathered in groups sitting along the roadway. "I've never seen this before," he remarked with a note of concern in his voice. "Something must have happened." We discovered later that there had been a small fire inside the VAB and everyone was evacuated.

Our first stop was in front of the LC-39 Observation Gantry. The second floor vantage point allowed us panoramic views of the two space shuttle pads 39A and 39B. They were still quite a distance away, for safety's sake, separated by indigenous forest. The gantry also offered a bird's eye view of the VAB and Crawlerway. Once on the main floor, I joined others for a historical video about the Kennedy Space Center.

I hopped on another bus that took me along with a group of young students to the Apollo/Saturn V Center. It was here that the 'wow factor' came into play. Seeing the awesomely huge Saturn V rocket, even measured by today's advanced technology, is still the most complex device made by man! It dwarfed anything man made that I had ever encountered. Simply amazing! This completely restored example was first shown to the public in 1995. A model of the Lunar Rover is also on display here.

The doors opened to the adjacent room and there before us was the actual Apollo 11 Control Center, with details like tee shirts and jackets draped over the chairs, from the various contractors and suppliers like Boeing, IBM, etc. right to the same white ceramic tiles on the floor. Everyone was in reverent silence as the soundtrack played synchronizing with a colored light display that lit the affected command center areas, realistically depicting the events that took place that July day in 1969 when that historic launch that propelled Apollo 11 to the moon. That world landmark event that would result in the first men to walk on the surface of the moon. It was the fulfillment of the daunting promise of President John Kennedy to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade. The vivid memory of that hot July day when Neil Armstrong stepped off the ladder of the lunar module onto the soft blanket of fine dust of the moon's surface is permanently etched in the memory banks of my mind.

Snapping back to reality, our tour group shuffled our way to the theater. In the comfort of those cozy seats we saw historical footage and heard comments from the key players during that exciting era. We heard first hand about the challenges NASA had to overcome in order to land the drifting lunar module safely onto the surface of the moon. A landing spot they hadn't planned on touching down. Now that was a landing by the seat of your pants!

After the educational show I checked out the various displays such as the Lunar Rover, space capsule, astronaut suit, etc., before catching the bus back to the Visitor Complex. Little time remained before the center would close, so I rushed to the mock up Explorer space shuttle. I examined the huge cargo bay tht could easily hold a greyhound bus. The ubiquitous Canadarm, Canada's valuable contribution to the space program was prominently attached to the side of the cargo bay. The storage area and pilot's cockpit were a huge leap forward from the cramped quarters of the capsules of the '60's.

The sun was beginning to set below the Floridian horizon and I made a few purchases of souvenirs and trinkets before leaving.

Unfortunately, there wasn't enough time to see the I-Max movies or some of the other interesting exhibits. That will have to be left for another visit, hopefully in the not too distant future. My experience at the Kennedy Space Center was amazing. I had accomplished my childhood goal and really helped me appreciate those pioneers who contributed to the North American space program, as well as give me an insight for those dedicated individuals who work here today. They are at the forefront of the next exciting era of space travel and exploration.

The Kennedy Space Center is located 45 minutes east of Orlando and is open every day, except Christmas and certain launch days. For the true space enthusiast there is an interactive full-day experience that puts your skills to the test to see if you have 'the right stuff' to be an astronaut.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Tuscany: The Most Beautiful Region in Italy

By Natalie Aranda

SUMMARY: Tuscany is a region in Italy located in the central part of the country along the western coast. The capital of the region is Florence. Tuscany has a long and well deserved reputation as the most beautiful location in all of Italy. This beauty is both man made and natural. The region was the center of the Italian Renaissance. The Renaissance produced some of the greatest art in the history of the World, and much of it can still be found in the museums and galleries of Florence. Pisa, famous for its leaning tower, is also located in the area.

Tuscany is a region in Italy located in the central part of the country along the western coast. The capital of the region is Florence. Tuscany has a long and well deserved reputation as the most beautiful location in all of Italy. This beauty is both man made and natural. The region was the center of the Italian Renaissance. The Renaissance produced some of the greatest art in the history of the World, and much of it can still be found in the museums and galleries of Florence. Pisa, famous for its leaning tower, is also located in the area.

It is the country side that represents the natural beauty. Villas in Tuscany dot the tranquil landscape where travelers are transported to a timeless era, and can enjoy the slow paced life and the scenic landscape. It is like a trip in a time machine. The slow paced life and the colorful landscape invoke the time of Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci.

Tuscany villa rentals are a big business here as Tuscany is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Italy and even in Europe. It is the combination of the old and the new, the classic and the modern that give Tuscany its charm and attraction. Tuscany has its own unique style. There is Tuscan cooking for example. It is Italian, of course, but has its own special taste as do some of the famous wines made from the grapes that grow in Tuscany’s sun drenched vineyards.

If your vacation plans include Italy, you are going to want to plan to spend sometime in Tuscany. It would take a lifetime to fully explore the art treasures of Florence alone so you are going to want to stay awhile. Renting Tuscany villas has long been the right way to fully adsorb the culture of the region. It is something that you need to discuss with your travel agent. Florence is one of Italy’s largest cities and is the gateway to Tuscany. It is serviced by an International Airport, so you can easily begin your vacation here. However you chose to arrive in Tuscany, there is no doubt that you will leave a little piece of your heart here when you leave. It has enchanted visitors and inspired artists for centuries and you are certain to leave behind a little piece of your heart.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Vacations in the Philippines

By Richard Romando

SUMMARY: The charm and beauty of the Philippines has always mesmerized travelers and vacationers. The tourists are beckoned to the island time and again by its natural beauty and cultural environment. There are many islands located in the Philippines, and one of them is the Boracay, which covers three kilometers of white beach. Staying in the Philippines can be extremely pleasant and also very cheap. The people in the Philippines are very friendly and hospitable, which makes the vacation more enjoyable.

The charm and beauty of the Philippines has always mesmerized travelers and vacationers. The tourists are beckoned to the island time and again by its natural beauty and cultural environment. There are many islands located in the Philippines, and one of them is the Boracay, which covers three kilometers of white beach. Staying in the Philippines can be extremely pleasant and also very cheap. The people in the Philippines are very friendly and hospitable, which makes the vacation more enjoyable.

The natural landscapes, the climatic conditions, the tropical animals, fruits, and vegetables found here make the Philippines a beautiful place to visit. The main attractions here are the volcanoes Pinatubo and Mount Mayon. Since the Philippines are an exotic tropical country, Filipinos housing, transportation, and the economic activities in the markets and other places depict the Filipino way of life.

Since, the Philippines are located in Southeast Asia in the western Pacific, the water here is warm. This warm and shallow water promotes the existence of corals and abundant coral reefs. Hence, the government of the Philippines earns major revenues due to the increasing number of tourists. Due to the warm temperature and high atmospheric humidity, rainfall can be expected at all times of the year.

Vacationers here can enjoy activities such as snorkeling and scuba diving in the coral waters. The famous Tanduay Rum, which is of a very high quality, is available at a very low price of just forty-five pesos for a liter. There are hardly any beggars seen on the streets of the Philippines.

The hotels and resorts available for lodging accommodations are plentiful. Vacationers can choose from a wide range of hotels to stay, depending on their budget. These hotels offer various deals and packages that are economical and cater to all the needs and preferences of the travelers. Depending on the season, the rates of the hotels vary. Information on the hotels along with the flight details can be found on the Internet. Travelers are advised to make prior arrangements and hotel bookings to avoid last minute disappointments.

Philippines Culture

The culture of the Philippines is based mainly on the various native religious groups, which have different cultural backgrounds and traditions. These groups include the Tagalogs, Ilokanos, Bikolanos, and others. The culture of the Philippines is greatly influenced by the Chinese and American cultures as well as those of other countries. The Hispanic influence on the Filipino culture is the result of the Mexican and Spanish cultures as a result of colonial rule.

Every year the citizens of the Philippines host major festivities that are known as the Barrio Fiesta. This fiesta honors all the patron saints of different towns, villages, and regional districts and is celebrated by ceremonies that are held in the church followed by street parades in honor of the saints. There are various contests that include dancing and singing, and cockfight tournaments before the grand finale of the fireworks.

The Chinese also influence the Filipino culture to a large extent, and this is clearly evident in the Filipino cuisines. The locals here have termed the famous Chinese noodles as Mami. Other dishes like meat and other foodstuffs also reflect the influence of the Chinese cuisine. The influence of the Chinese culture in the Philippines is reflected in the fact that citizens occasionally use Chinese surnames, and some are proficient in speaking the language as well.

Over a century ago, the American culture began having a relative influence on the Philippines. The frequent use of the English language in the Philippines is due to the American culture influence. The American culture has also increased the demand for fast food and its chains have spread all over the Philippines. Filipinos have also started listening to the latest American music, taken to watching American movies, dancing to the American tunes, and also started fancying Hollywood actors. The basic principal of the Filipino people is to follow their moral values and to respect their elders and family members. These qualities help them grow into better human beings and have a friendly and pleasing personality.

Filippino Food

The Philippines has the world's most delicious and alluring cuisines. The food has its own special tastes and flavors. People are not surprised to find great variety in the cooking styles of the Filipinos. The food served here is a unique blend of western and eastern cuisines. The cuisines of the Philippines include delicacies of Malay, Spanish, and also the Chinese because of the influence of these cultures that began approximately 400 years ago.

The Filipinos consider food to be the most important aspect of their culture since it is an integral part of their communal existence. The food of the Philippines was originally bland and mild before it was influenced by the other cuisines. People, who have sensitive taste buds and are ready to experiment with different cuisines, can try the dishes cooked by the Philippines.

Filipino food is very much influenced by the American culture as well. The increasing rate of fast food chains here is incredible. The American culture has brought with it major fast food giants, such as KFC, McDonald's, Pizza Hut, and Burger King. Since, the Filipinos are so fond of food, they have widely accepted this trend. The Chinese noodles, called Mami, are the most savored dish. Rice is served with almost all meals, as it is their staple food. To the Filipinos, simple cooking basically means fish and its varieties, fetched directly from the sea. Apart from fish, the Filipinos also like other seafood such as crabs, shellfish, and shrimps. At times fresh seafood is served with exotic sauces and spices. The Filipinos also eat uncooked seafood that is stuffed with onions and wrapped in a banana leaf.

Filipino dishes very frequently include coconut, and, hence, meat, and other vegetables are cooked using coconut milk. Coconut is also used to make desserts such as pudding, which is made of ground rice, sugar, and coconut milk and baked in the oven.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

London Apartment - Everything You Need To Know Before Booking A Serviced London Apartment

By Binh Zientek

SUMMARY: Definitive guide and insider tip to choosing the best serviced London apartment for your travel. Don't book before reading this, it will save you a lot of headache.

A few weeks ago a secretary telephoned me in absolute desperation. She was desperately searching for accommodation in central London for some VIPs from abroad. She stumbled onto my website, not really understanding what the service was about. I think the words ‘free service’, ‘apartments’ just helped her to figure out that Quality London Apartments had something to do with accommodation. Apologies for my long opening, but it is a prime example of how little travellers in the UK and Europe know about the serviced apartment industry. After explaining the concept of serviced apartments and helping her find an apartment, I realised that I needed to share this knowledge further afield. Thus, this article is my contribution to open up this elusive industry and offer tips to travellers.

What is a serviced apartment?

A serviced apartment is a flat in a block, which has a separate bedroom, sitting room/lounge, fully equipped kitchen, your own private keys to own door. Serviced apartments can be in the form of a studio flat (all in one room with a kitchenette), one, two or three bedrooms.
All apartments enjoy maid service, utilities and a management team to help….just like a hotel. Guests only pay for a nightly rate and can live in a flat with everything they would have in their own home.

Pros: Serviced London Apartment vs Hotels

More value for money and cheaper. In a hotel, no matter which star rating, you pay per night for one room which will have a TV, bathroom, sofa and a bed. This is similar to a studio apartment! In an apartment there is a separate bedroom, kitchen, sitting room, bathroom and dining table (exception is studio)
Pay per apartment and not per person. An example would be paying £250 per night for a two bedroom apartment, which could accommodate up to 4 people, that works out at £62.50 per person.
Freedom and privacy. An apartment is like being in your own home and there is plenty of space. You have your own keys to your own door.
Booking is easy, just like hotels. The majority of apartments require a credit card to guarantee, pre-payment before you arrive and that’s it. No deposits, no tenants’ contracts.

Cons: Serviced London Apartment vs Hotels
  • Apartments lacks the buzz and services of a hotel such as restaurants and Room Service. Albeit some apartments are owned by hotels and offer you the use of their restaurants and other services.
  • No 24-hour service around the clock. The apartments are ran by a small team who work Monday to Friday 9:00am – 6:00pm, so you are on your own during the weekend. There are emergency numbers to call should you suffer an electric cut, but no 24-hours hotel Duty Manager to run to your room.
  • No pool, massages, saunas like hotels

What to look out for when booking a serviced London apartment?
  1. Quality of the apartment – make sure you find out if they are clean, well furnished and well maintained. How? Check the photos, and ask if you can book an appointment to view the apartment. This is very important if you are staying over a long period of time.
  2. Do they have a friendly and efficient management team? If you need the comfort of a welcoming face to greet you on arrival, then ask for an apartment with a reception. Some apartments provide key boxes, so you can arrive any time, but there is no-one to meet you. A friendly and small team will be able to give you a very personal touch.
  3. Opening time of the apartments office – doesn’t sound important? Well it is because the majority of apartments’ operations team open Monday to Friday 9:00am to 6:00pm. If you arrive at your apartment during office open hours, then fine, but any other time and weekends will mean that you will need to pick up the keys from a different location.
  4. Key delivery by car at the airport? – If you are flying from abroad to London, and do not fancy traipsing throughout London at night to pick up keys, the majority of apartments will hire a taxi to deliver your keys to the airport upon your arrival. Convenient for a small charge.
  5. Payment procedure and cancellation policy – every apartment vary in their guest terms and conditions. All will accept a credit card as a guarantee of reservation, some will ask for 100% pre-payment at least 7 days prior to arrival and cancellation can range from 12:00pm on the day of arrival to 28 days. So, before you confirm the reservation, be very clear about the terms and conditions. Ask your apartment agents to explain the procedure to you and read the terms and conditions on your confirmation emails. It will save you a great deal of trouble and headache later.
  6. Apartments are always allocated on arrival. This policy is the same as any hotel, so unless you are a regular guest to a specific apartment, apartments are on allocations. In the same breath, some apartments only have a small number of flats, so if you are reserving the only 3 bedrooms penthouse in their collection, then you are guaranteed that specific apartment.
  7. Rates become more competitive the longer you stay. In this, we mean you have more bargaining power if you are staying for one month or longer. This is when your apartment agent can really help you by negotiating with a variety of apartments to get you the best deal.
  8. Using an apartment agent will also save you time searching, but most importantly they will work with your budget and negotiate a great deal for you. Of course, you also need to be realistic about what you can book, don’t expect to spend £80 per night for a luxury apartment. For example, one of our clients had £300 budget per night for a two bedroom apartment and he wanted something luxury. For those readers who know London well, also understands that this budget is actually very small. Despite that, we booked him and 3 friends into the Victoria Park Plaza luxury apartment (£150 per night less than the usual price) for £300 per night with free breakfast, gym and access to the executive lounge. Any apartment agent worth their salt can and will move mountains to help you.
What if I don’t like the apartment when I get there?

If you really feel that you have been hard done by, tell the apartment management team and ask to be moved to another apartment. All of the apartments that we work with are very customer focussed and try to help guests enjoy their stay. If this does not work, talk to your apartment agent, if that is how you booked. Best advice though, is to ask all the right questions before you book an apartment.

Your appetite for apartments is now whetted – how do you find London apartments?
  1. As already explained, you can choose a free search and book service of an apartment agent or go direct to a specific apartment that you know. Both methods are absolutely fine, dependent of your knowledge of London apartments. Using an agent will mean that they will search far across their portfolio and present you with a variety of choices…all within 10-15 minutes. Agents are impartial and will only (good agents anyway) recommend the quality apartments for your needs.
  2. You can use search engines like Google, Yahoo and MSN to find apartments. Type in keywords like ‘London serviced apartments’ or ‘quality London apartments’ and so on.
  3. Stating the obvious but, ask for a recommendation from friends and acquaintances.
  4. Check on and other customer review websites.
If you have read this far, then thank you for your time. I have tried to make this article clear and as helpful as possible, but I welcome your comments and any further information that you feel is very important.

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